Seven U.S. lobbies slam F-16 sales to Turkey

Seven leading U.S. advocacy groups, including the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), have formally asked leaders of the Senate and House Foreign Affairs Committees and Armed Services Committees to reject a reported Biden Administration request to sell 40 F-16 fighters and 80 F-16 modernization kits to Turkey’s dictatorial Erdogan regime.

The advocacy calls came in the wake of a Wall Street Journal report last week that the Biden Administration had officially sought Congressional approval of the sale, despite ongoing U.S. sanctions against Turkey for its purchase of Russian-made S-400s.  The ANCA, alongside the American Friends of Kurdistan, American Jewish Committee, Hellenic American Leadership Council, In Defense of Christians, Middle East Forum, and PSEKA – International Coordinating Committee Justice for Cyprus, sent individual letters to Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chair and Ranking Republican Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Jim Risch (R-ID) and Armed Services Committee Chair and Ranking Republican Jack Reed (D-RI) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK).  Letters were also sent to the House side, addressed to Foreign Affairs Committee Chair and Ranking Republican Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Armed Services Committee Chair and Ranking Republican Adam Smith (D-WA) and Mike Rogers (R-AL).

“While Turkey and its highly-paid foreign agents here in Washington are busy striving to spin this sale to an increasingly hostile power as somehow advancing American national security, the facts and the law point to exactly the opposite conclusion,” argued the ANCA’s Aram Hamparian to Congressional leaders.   “Erdogan will, without hesitation, deploy these weapons systems in ways that undermine U.S. interests and undermine American values.  We ask that you ensure that any American arms sales to Ankara come with narrowly defined statutory conditions and bilaterally agreed upon restrictions, including guarantees that U.S. weapons will never be deployed against Armenians, Syriac­Assyrians, Greeks, Cypriots, the Kurds, or domestic civilian populations.”

American Friends of Kurdistan President Diliman Abdulkader argued, “Turkey has shown time and time again that it uses American-made weapons to threaten ethnic and religious minorities like the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, including the vulnerable Yazidi community in Sinjar, Iraq.”  Abdulkader explained that the Erdogan regime “consistently targets the Kurdish people by labeling them terrorists, preventing the Kurdish language from being taught in schools, imprisoning Kurdish journalists and academics, and is on the verge of banning the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP). The former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas has remained behind bars since 2016, and most recently, Osman Kavala, a Turkish businessman, philanthropist, and activist, was given a life sentence.”

In Defense of Christians Executive Director Richard Ghazal raised concerns about Turkey’s ongoing targeting of Christians in the region. “Selling Turkey new F-16s and advanced upgrade kits would undermine national security, American values and NATO interests.  Turkey has already used its existing weapon systems to launch kinetic attacks against Christians and other ethno-religious minorities in Syria, Iraq, Armenia, and in the eastern Mediterranean.  Turkish attacks on the final Christian towns in northern Syria and northern Iraq have brought Syriac-Assyrian-Chaldean Christians to the brink of extinction in their native homeland,” noted Ghazal.

“Turkey is recklessly risking war within NATO. To grant them new and upgraded F-16s would be equally reckless,” stated Hellenic American Leadership Council Executive Director Endy Zemenides.  “Contrary to the State Department’s reasoning, Turkey undermines NATO alliance unity interests and U.S. national security interests on an almost daily basis by creating a flashpoint within NATO.”

“If Turkey had changed its behavior in response to the consequences it faced after acquiring Russian S- 400s, perhaps we would understand what appears to be a change in policy by the State Department. But Turkey has not changed behavior. In fact, Ankara’s behavior has gotten worse,” explained Phil Christopher, President of PSEKA, the International Coordinating Committee Justice for Cyprus.  “Since the imposition of Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions on Turkey, the Erdogan government: has promised to proceed with acquiring additional S-400 systems; has increased its provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean; and has both continued its occupation of Cyprus and disregarded U.S. policy on reunifying Cyprus – while bolstered by American made weapons.”

Julie Rayman of the American Jewish Committee concurred.  “Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400’s and its repeated failure to act as a reliable ally triggered CAATSA sanctions and congressional holds to prevent new American weapons acquisitions. Rather than seeking to repair its relationship with Washington, Turkey insists on keeping Russian weapons systems and even buying more. Less than one year after CAATSA sanctions were imposed, Erdogan declared his intent to buy additional Russian S-400s,” stated Rayman.

“Every effort should be made to ensure that the Republic of Turkey acts according to America’s interests and values, even while we take into account the vital stakes in the Ukraine/Russia conflict,” argued Middle East Forum Washington Project Director Clifford Sterns.  “Acknowledging both the situation in Ukraine and the nature of Erdogan’s Turkey, Congress should insist that Turkey:  Cease funding jihadi terrorist organizations in Syria and hosting terrorist groups such as Hamas; actively support Ukraine and not equally assist Russia; ensure Russia cannot use Turkey’s banks to evade sanctions; ensure that no sensitive American equipment from advanced F-16’s is co-located with S-400 missiles; and, any additional actions that may deter Turkish misbehavior.”

Members of Congress continued to express serious reservations to the U.S. F-16s sale to Turkey following news of the Biden Administration’s request.

“I strongly condemn the proposed weapons sale to Turkey. The United States must not reward Turkey with new weapons and military equipment given the Erdogan regime’s long record of human rights abuses, destabilizing actions, and failure to live up to NATO commitments,” stated Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ).  “This sale will only embolden him and give him the resources to continue his war-mongering initiatives in the Caucasus and beyond. I cannot support any Congressional action that would help Turkey increase its military arsenal,” concluded Rep. Pallone.

“I strongly oppose the Biden Administration’s proposed sale of advanced weapons and equipment to upgrade Turkey’s F-16 fleet. Turkey has failed to address the issues that led to its ejection from the F-35 program and the imposition of CAATSA sanctions,” said Rep. Chris Pappas (R-NH). “Actions speak louder than words, and without any meaningful change on Turkey’s part, I will continue working to prevent F-16s or any other American-made weapons from falling into Erdogan’s hands,” concluded Rep. Pappas.

Congressional Hellenic Caucus Co-Chairs Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) concurred.  “Like many of my colleagues, I remain vehemently opposed to any sale,” said Rep. Bilirakis. “Unfortunately, Turkey has not changed its behavior when it comes to the S-400s and CAATSA, which is the underlying reason Turkey was dropped from the F-35 program.  I am confident that Turkey’s failure to change its behavior will prevent congressional approval of this sale.”  Rep. Maloney explained, “While Erdogan has recently increased his endorsements of international law and respect for sovereignty in his statements on Ukraine, he conveniently ignores Turkey’s continuous violations of both Cyprus’ and Greece’s sovereignty – including 40,000 Turkish troops still illegally occupying parts of the Republic of Cyprus. I made it clear last November in our letter on this issue: Turkey’s purchase and use of Russian S-400 missile systems in defiance of NATO standards and U.S. law, decades-long violations of the Republic of Cyprus’ sovereignty, and continuing destabilizing behavior in the Eastern Mediterranean and West Asia should disqualify them from receiving these systems.”

Turkey is looking to leverage its role in the Russia-Ukraine talks to win over U.S. lawmakers as it seeks to purchase additional U.S. weapons, starting with 40 new F-16s and 80 F-16 upgrade kids.  A large Turkish parliamentary delegation was making the rounds on Capitol Hill last week, encouraging Congressional leaders to let the sale go through.  The Nordic Monitor, a non-government organization that tracks radical and violent extremist trends in Europe, with a focus on Turkey, reported that the Turkish delegation is comprised of members who “strongly supported an S-400 agreement in 2017 with Russia that caused a crisis of confidence between the two allies in which the US imposed sanctions on Ankara in 2020.”

Meanwhile, Erdogan’s statements opposing Finland and Sweden’s membership in NATO have raised concerns in Washington DC.  “His [Erdogan’s] outrageous claims about Finland and Sweden are yet another example of Turkey’s failure to live up to its NATO obligations. He has consistently shown that he is not a reliable partner and that he is not committed to advancing the shared democratic values of the NATO alliance,” stated Rep. Pallone.

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